How the brain recovers post opioid addiction
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Brain Recovery from Drugs
03-04-15 Category: Addiction Treatment

Brain Recovery from Drugs

Opioid abuse and addiction is a serious problem and those abusing and/or addicted to opioids should seek out treatment as soon as possible as it may be a matter of life or death. Detoxification is always the first step to recovery but it is also the hardest, especially when it comes to opioid withdrawal. Users may experience many uncomfortable symptoms that vary depending on how severe the opioid abuse was, but it can be made easier with Naturally Assisted Detox (NAD). Withdrawal and recovery are hard, but studies show that the brain begins repairing itself quickly after patients go into opioid remission.

A new study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in early December found that after a few months in recovery, patients who have successfully halted their use of prescription opioids show signs that their brains’ natural reward systems already have begun to normalize. The reward system in the brain is responsible for a large part of the addiction that comes with opioid abuse, as it adjusts to the higher stimulus created by the drug and stops reacting to smaller stimuli such as good food or relationships. Since naturally rewarding stimuli just can’t measure up to the pleasure provided by opioids, the reward system adjusts to the drugs’ effects. This is often a major reason why patients’ relapse repeatedly during recovery from opioid addiction. However, it is encouraging to know that if they get through the first month and a half or so of discomfort and opioid inspired anhedonia, their brains will already be on the mend.

Researchers compared the reward systems in the brains of patients who were in residential treatment for opioid addiction. One group had undergone withdrawal in the past two weeks, the second had been clean for two to three months and the last group was a control group. Researchers observed that those patients who had recently withdrawn from the drugs had reduced pleasure responses to natural reward stimuli such as pictures of appetizing food while they had a heightened response to drug-related cues such as pictures of pills. In contrast, those patients who had been clean for two to three months showed reduced responses towards drug cues. Additionally, recently withdrawn patients also had high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and exhibited sleep disturbances while extended-care patients had lower levels of cortisol and sleep, which was similar to that of the control group. All of this is to say that the longer patients go without drugs, the lower the abnormal responses will be in their brains’ reward centers, which make it that much easier to help them stay drug-free.

To learn more about opioid addiction treatment or NAD, please visit or call (866) 819-0427 for more information.

Written by Brianna Gibbons, Sovereign Health Content writer

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